Think back to 2005, when the phrase “Now do you believe?” was still applied to Santa Claus and the NHL was finally reaching a labor agreement. When the ping pong balls were put into place for the Entry Draft, the Sabres were one of four teams (Rangers, Penguins, Blue Jackets, Sabres) with the best chance to get the first pick: three ping pong balls.
I’m sure you know the story from there. The Penguins got the first pick and Sidney Crosby in the process, while the Sabres ended up in 13th (!?!) place and drafted Marek Zagrapan. Today, Marek Zagrapan is nothing more than a name with expectations attached, while Sid the Kid is leading the Penguins out of exile and into the Stanley Cup Finals.
The point I’m trying to make here is that the NHL Entry Draft matters a whole lot more than most people think. Yes, free agency is huge in today’s game, but development from within is the only way the Sabres will ever win a Stanley Cup, plain and simple. Take a look at the two teams in the Finals this year and tell me the draft isn’t important to their success.
Yes, players like Sykora (Pens) and Rafalski (Wings) were brought in last summer, but it is the players like Staal and Whitney for Pittsburgh and Zetterburg and Holmstrom for Detroit that have been the foundation of these playoff runs. Postseason success is about more than high prices superstars; (I’m looking at you, Danny…) the entire roster needs to be filled with depth and talent for long-term success in spring.
That talent simply cannot be bought for cheap in the free agent market. Heck, take a look at the Red Wing’s roster, only five players have a $3 mill/year hit on the cap. After this season that number will most likely increase, but that only shows you how much urgency is in this year’s playoffs.
It is fascinating to watch a team like Detroit play knowing how much they do with so little. It is this envy that makes you a better hockey fan, examining what it is that good teams do that your team does not. One of the things Detroit does is draft ridiculously well, and so if you are a Sabres fan, your favorite weekend in June is 20-21st.
The Sabres have actually done very well with draft picks in the past, and even recently Darcy’s work seems to be paying dividends. Mike Weber and Andrej Sekera may be the two defensive stalwarts we’ve been waiting for, and this fall is the first year Marek Zagrapan will be given a serious look at training camp. With two first round picks this year, Darcy will once again be given the chance to pick a player we expect big things from.
If you are big on the draft, this is the site you will fall in love with. (Thanks to Mirtle and Kevin for the head’s up) The NHL’s official draft site has one of the best set ups for looking at individual players with the best information possible. Just looking over the player bios is enough to get me excited about draft day.
ESPN.com, of all places, has one of the first mock drafts I’ve seen. With the 13th overall pick, the Sabres “take” D Colten Teubert, ranked 18th overall in North America (reeeeeeeach!!!). Actually, looking over his profile I’m pretty satisfied with the “selection”. He certainly won’t be making the team this fall, but only Staals do that, anyway.
Speaking of that, Jared is available…